Ms. Carra Purvis joins MSA with more than 20 years’ experience as a non-profit professional for grassroots and faith-based organizations across the country. Until her family moved to her husband’s childhood home near Enterprise, Ms. Purvis served in Augusta, GA as the Director of Development for the Augusta Symphony; in Seattle, WA as the director of a faith based non-profit; and, in New Orleans, LA for a mission organization.
Ms. Purvis brings a unique perspective to the work at The Symphony as she has a strong background in the arts – a bachelor’s degree in Music from William Carey University; classical training in vocal performance and dance; and, a lifetime of music appreciation from her mother, a classically trained pianist and music educator, and her grandfather, a professional string musician.
“I grew up literally surrounded by music. I found instruments in every corner of our house, sheet music on almost every surface, and great family memories set to a backdrop of some of the best music a child could ever hope to hear, much of which was played live regardless of our location. It is with great pleasure that I join the team of consummate professionals at the Meridian Symphony. What a dream come true to couple my work and my love for the arts with an organization so strongly supported and embraced by a community which values the arts and is rich in music history.”
Office Manager / Administrative Assistant
After serving on the Meridian Symphony Board of Directors for several years and even serving as board president, Zena has made the transition from board member to staff member. He retired after working at Waters International Trucks for eighteen years. Zena has been active in the past with The Meridian Council for the Arts and the Meridian Little Theatre. He currently serves on the Boards for MPAC (Stage 2) and The North Lauderdale Water Association. Zena is enrolled at Mississippi State University Meridian pursuing a degree in history with hopes to teach theatre.
Director of Education & Community Engagement
Kayla Fuentes is a mezzo-soprano, vocal pedagogue, and quirky theatre teacher from Starkville, Mississippi, where her passion for music and singing found its roots. She joins MSA as Director of Education and Community Engagement as she returns for her “reprise” role in Mississippi.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree from Mississippi College (2014) under the guidance of Meridian native, Dr. Kristen Johnson-Gunn. She then went on to graduate from Manhattan School of Music with a Master of Music: Classical Vocal Performance (2016), under the tutelage of Mignon Dunn.
While in New York, Kayla found herself called to inspire, motivate, and entertain. Upon graduation, she invested her musical talent and passion back into the community while working for Opera America’s outreach program as their Education Assistant. She taught voice and piano at Larchmont Music Academy for 5 years working with students of all ages. She thrived as an acting coach, and voice instructor for Manhattan School of Music summer program for 6 years and had the honor to perform on many great stages in NYC. She has joyfully spent the majority of her 8 years in New York combining performance and educational outreach to re-energize the allure of the musical arts.
Kayla looks forward to continuing her passion for education, performing, and music at MSA. She wishes to excite young minds, peak the interest of the musical weary, and maintain a current and future audience of music goers for years to come.
“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.” ― Sarah Dessen, Just Listen.
Dr. Kristen Johnson Gunn
Choral Director, Meridian Symphony Chorus
Meridian native Dr. Kristen Johnson Gunn has assumed duties as choral director of the Meridian Symphony Chorus. Gunn previously served on the music faculty at Mississippi College, where since 2008 she was associate professor of voice and coordinator of musical theatre and opera productions.
Gunn received her Bachelor of Music degree in Voice Performance from Mississippi College (2003) and her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Voice (Opera) from Florida State University (2006; 2008).
During the past 20 years, Gunn has acquired much experience and praise as both singer and teacher. She held the title of Mississippi and Southern Regional NATSAA (National Association of Teachers of Singing Artist Awards) winner for 2014 which allowed her to represent the Southern region at the NATS national conference in Boston, Massachusetts (July 2014). While in Boston, Gunn was chosen as a national finalist where she successfully completed and was announced as winner of the sixth place prize, the Louis T. Nicholas Award.
During the past 10 years, Gunn has often been featured on the stages of Mississippi Opera, several of Mississippi’s colleges and universities and the Meridian Symphony Orchestra. Past performances include: Micaela (Meridian Symphony’s concert version of Bizet’s Carmen in 2007), Gabriel (Meridian Symphony’s 2008 production of Haydn’s Creation), Fiordiligi (Mississippi Opera’s 2013 production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte), Santuzza (Mississippi Opera’s 2015 production of Mascagni’s Cavelleria Rusticana), and many other concert and cabaret performances with these companies and others. In addition to being an active performer throughout the state of Mississippi, Gunn has also performed on stages in Italy (2004 & 2008), Belgium (2009), South Africa (2014) and New York’s Lincoln Center (2012).
Jewel Lynne Shirley
Music Therapist, Healing Harmonies
Jewel Lynne Shirley received her Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS, and became a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) in September of 2021. During her undergraduate practica experience, Jewel Lynne worked with a variety of populations including but not limited to older adults, children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities, adults with intellectual disabilities, children with emotional/behavioral disorders, Alzheimer’s/Dementia acute care unit, patients on the acute psych ward at South Mississippi State Hospital, and patients on the palliative and oncology floors at Forrest General Hospital.
She completed her music therapy internship at NeuroRhythm Music Therapy Services, LLC, in Colorado Springs, CO, where she focused on using applied behavior analysis (ABA) and music therapy to treat children and adults with autism. Jewel Lynne is a Meridian native and is excited to introduce music therapy to her hometown.
She is currently in her second year of graduate school at Mississippi State University and is planning to graduate with her Masters in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in ABA in May of 2023. She currently works in the Division of Education at MSU-Meridian where she manages the AmeriCorps Jumpstart grant and is the administrative assistant for the Any Given Child grant. Jewel Lynne believes music not only brings people together but helps people communicate when words fail.
Accompanist, Meridian Symphony Chorus
David Benson is organist-choirmaster at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Meridian. He is also the accompanist and arranger for the Meridian Symphony Chorus. David was the founder and director of Melrose Music Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, for over two decades. David and his wife Jo, a public school music teacher of many years, met at their alma mater, Stetson University. They have two children and one granddaughter.
Personnel Manager, Meridian Symphony Orchestra
Violinist and conductor Jorge Ivan Gonzalez serves as the Personnel Manager and Principal Second Violin of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Jorge is the Concertmaster of the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra, Conductor and supervisor of the HPSD string orchestras, and Artistic Director of the FestivalSouth Orchestral and Chamber Music Academy.
Gonzalez is an accomplished violinist, having given solo and chamber music performances across the world and won numerous awards. He is a regular faculty member at international music festivals including Music Mountain, FS Orchestral Academy, Festival Internacional de Musica de Ibague, Festival Internacional de Musica Guaranda. An Assistant Professor of Music (Violin and Viola) at William Carey University, Gonzalez serves as coordinator of string activities and conductor of the university orchestra.
As an orchestral musician, Dr. Courtney Grant has performed with many local orchestras including the Meridian Symphony, Gulf Coast Symphony, Pensacola Symphony, Mobile Symphony, Tuscaloosa Symphony and MSU/Starkville Symphony. Dr. Grant has served as a founding member of the Graduate String Quartet at the University of Delaware, Black Cat String Trio, and Riverside Quartet.
In 2015, Dr. Grant and her husband formed the Sonorous Duo. They are committed to expanding the repertoire for the combination of viola and marimba by commissioning a wide variety of composers as well as performing for audiences worldwide.
Dr. Grant serves on the faculty of Mississippi State University. She also runs a private teaching studio out of her home where she gives lessons in violin, viola, and piano. Currently, Dr. Grant resides in the Meridian area with her husband, daughter, and two cats.
A Meridian native, Kaylila Pasha has grown up influenced by the cultural and educational impact of the Meridian Symphony Association within the community. Ms. Pasha joins the team as a former MSA intern and collaborator through her boutique digital marketing agency, Kaylila Creative.
Ms. Pasha is a graduate of Oklahoma City University, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She has served at several nonprofits, including the MSU Riley Center for Education & Performing Arts, Any Given Child Meridian, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, WaterTower Theatre, and the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation. Passionate about live performance art, Ms. Pasha is a professional actor, theatre director, and the Co-Founder & Director of Common Stage Theatre Lab.